ring the bell, skool's in sucka!!!!
summer m. presents: grad skool for beginners
part 2 of 2
yesterday, i posted some excuses for new and returning undergraduates in a fix. today, i shift my focus to graduate skool. now let me just say this: despite the fact that i'm beginning year 4 of my program, i have no words of wisdom for graduate skool. in fact, i'll prolly just end up talking about myself, and i may include some things i've learned along the way. but whatever, i committed to two parts, i'm gonna follow through. new grad students and/or those thinking of giving the ivory tower a shot might find this helpful.
as i've said before, i'm from your typical midwestern town. my daddy works at a factory; my mother works for the phone company; and my stepdad was a police officer for 25 years. though they've ascended some in recent years, my folks are pretty much working class people. only one of my three parents graduated from college, and that happened about 5 years ago. i'm the eldest of four, and i'm a publik skool kid. i say these things for 3 reasons: first, when it came to applying for college, neither i nor my parents knew a great deal about the process; second, only two people affiliated with my high skool really encouraged my allegedly 'gifted' ass. (that's what they call you when you sleep in class and still get A's, though everyday you show up to class with other books--meaning unassigned reading--because all of your textbooks are in your locker, and you forgot the combination a long time ago.)
the first one person outside of my family to exhibit concern about my choices in institutions of higher learning was mrs. patterson, who encouraged me to apply to smith; she was convinced that i would've really flourished there. i don't think she meant that i would've become a lesbian sooner, which is prolly what would've happened. (i mean, she did get me a prom date.) the second was a recruiter from yale. i think she encouraged me to apply because we had a very brief conversation about their eyes were watching god. i applied to neither skool because my parents said there was no way we could afford it. finally, i say this because though my mama was not a crackhead, and i had two father figures who were more or less present in my life, from one or more points of view, i shouldn't be here.
ivy league dreams aside, i went to purdon't and majored in several things--including business and communications--before settling on english. by the time my junior year rolled around, i figured i'd either become a lawyer or a teacher. i found the idea of becoming a professor alluring, but i truly didn't have any idea how you became one. academia was a very cryptic and abstract thing to me. though there are professionals in my family, there are no professors. someone with a ph.d. was merely someone who was a doctor, but couldn't prescribe you medication. but every now and then i'd get a clue of how one got to teach college classes, and publish books and articles no one ever read. and i figured, i like to read, why not go to graduate skool? yeah, yo. summer m. decided to go to graduate skool and get a ph.d. because she liked to read.
though i'd only been an english major for maybe 3 semesters of my entire college career, somehow i got into grad skool. and let me tell you: getting a ph.d. in english is a rude awakening for anyone who goes because he or she enjoys reading fiction. here are some other things i've learned along the way:
- if you don't drink, you will. and if you do drink, you'll drink more. since alcoholism runs rampant on both sides of my family, i thought imbibing would definitely open a flood gate. despite my genes, after a year of being an uptight asshole, i turned to vodka. i'm still an asshole, but i'm much more relaxed now. the rest is history.
- if you don't smoke, you will. 'the more man smoke herb, the more babylon fall.' bob marley ain't neva lied.
- it's really just learning how to talk. if someone twists my arm long enough to get an honest answer about what i really do--meaning, they don't believe that i'm independently wealthy--i'll be honest and tell them i'm getting my ph.d. every now and then i meet someone who is impressed by that. this is absolutely crazy to me. i've told several people that getting a ph.d. is largely learning how to talk a certain way. my first year, i came up with a very long list of words that should appear in any academic paper i write; a sort of academic lexicon, if you will. i realized it often wasn't what someone was saying that blew my mind, it was really how he/she was saying it. sadly, a lot of professors won't give you the time of day if you don't have the 'words to say it.' to add insult to injury, these same profs will adore the idiots in your class who have those words at their disposal but aren't saying shit. i suppose that's kind of like packaging, or advertising. eventually folks will catch on if the product is bad. but if you have a great idea, and say 'use' instead of 'employ', you look like the store brand. using words and phrases like 'problematize' and 'put pressure on' will get your shit off the shelf and into the cart. french words move your product from the bottom to eye level.
- value your own cultural capital. if you study some other shit (in all senses of the term) , odds are you will meet colleagues who may condescend when you bring up ellison instead of eliot. it's all good. try this: next time you're all chilling, talking some academic bullshit, bring up some shit you have a pretty good feeling your colleagues may not know about. i suppose he/she will perhaps scoff as if whatever you've brought up is superfluous. but as soon as he/she brings up some obscure french film you've neither seen nor heard of, there's a chance that on some level you're somehow an inadequate intellectual. that's just bullshit-- i promise. don't let these mofos invalidate what you study. and definitely don't think they're somehow more learned than you. especially in the first year, everyone's just as scared and just as clueless. in fact, the more i learn, the more inadequate i feel. yet i'm not going to allow a peer to convince me that they know more, and that their knowledge is more valuable than mine. save yourself the stress. do you, and do it proudly.
- it's all still a mystery. despite what i've written here, i have no idea what the hell i'm talking about. i'm sure some of my other grad skool pals have something much more concrete and true to contribute.
language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison